Tag Archives: Quito

Is Quito ready for its upcoming Underground Metro?

Ask any quiteño what their biggest annoyance is with living in the capital city, and more often than not you’ll hear them mutter a disgruntled “traffic.”

Oh, hey there Traffic, I can see you sneaking up behind me...

In just over a decade, Quito has quite literally exploded in all directions, or at least as much as the massive hills and mountains that flank this bit of civilization will allow it to. Look closely at the steep hills of Pichincha on any night, and you’ll see the city lights quite literally floating upwards towards the stars – an indicator of just how much the city is beginning to bulge and teem with new buildings and infrastructure. With an estimated annual growth of 18,000 people per year, Quito keeps getting bigger by the day.

But if Quito is so excited to grow, can it sustain itself and its people while expanding at such a rapid pace?

The city’s boundaries are a long shot from what they once were in the Northern end (once the old Mariscal Sucre Airport) and at the Southern end (just past El Panecillo, by El Recreo). The furthest reaches of the city now border closer to Mitad del Mundo near Carcelen, and the Southern recesses by Quitumbe – a jaunt away from Pasachoa.

I can see the mothers and fathers of this city, hands on their hips, looking down endearingly on this great expanse of civilization, and gleefully saying, “they grow up so fast, don’t they?”

But as the boundaries of the city grow wider and wider apart, commutes get longer and longer, and not to mention – the people get grumpier and grumpier as they arrive to work (Disclaimer: The VIVA Offices are an exceptional and energetic haven for all weary travelers, workers and commuters alike. We have plenty of coffee and would gladly share it with any tired soul that feels the need to amble in through our doors on the way to… well, wherever!). Point being, buses and cars can only do so much in mitigating the growth of the city. More people can only mean more buses, and likewise – more cars.

Even Quito’s relatively recent Pico & Placa (literally Peak & Plate, whereby cars with specific license-plate numbers are prohibited from driving during certain hours, on specific days) traffic-regulating system is getting lukewarm in its effectiveness as the oh-so-cunning populace does what any tree-hugger would rightfully gag at, and that is – they’re all buying secondary cars to use on their “prohibited” days!

What recourse does the city have now, but to look to the future and envision a way of mitigating the traffic – the crowds on wheels – by getting into gear and funneling much of that crowd into a nice and shiny new metro system that’s set to open in 2016!

Wait, was that a… 2016?

Yup.

Three more years of waiting, but a total of 6 if you go back to 2010 and understand that they were already doing an examination of the city in order to better understand how exactly it is that they’d put a Metro through a city as motley and topsy-turvy as this. Not to mention, all the logistics of how many stops it’ll have, or where they’ll be located and how many passengers they’ll transport has been investigated.

So that part is over, or “Phase 1” as it’s technically called, is officially complete, thanks in large part to the savvy and knowledgeable minds at Metro Madrid – an engineering company that has years of expertise in the metro-building business over in Spain. The the future of transportation is in capable and good hands, to say the least. The engineering firm has also been commissioned to supervise the remaining phases, as well as performing technical maintenance on the metro once it’s finished.

There will be 15 stations in total, with La Magdalena being the terminus station located in South and El Labrador being its counterpoint in the North.

Budget for the entire line? 1.5 million.

But why can't it stop directly at my doorstep?!

Wait a minute, did I get that right? One-and-a-half million? Aren’t there cars that are worth more than that???

Which is why many have come to doubt the construction of the metro (which is even harder to stop now, given the project is already underway, as construction of the terminus stations began earlier this year). Many are skeptical of whether or not the entire project has enough money to finance it to the finish line (50% is provided by the municipality, and the other half by the central government). The budget, to some, seems way to small to justify and sustain the sheer size of the project, especially given the fact that the greater part of the metro is going to be underground – which costs a prettier penny than it does to build above ground.

Not to mention, with two stations planned for Quito’s Old Town, UNESCO has cast a rather questionable glance at the project itself. As a world heritage site, Old Town seems to be the most vulnerable and fragile location to undergo a project as big as this, and yet ironically – the one most in need of it. With an average intake of 280 thousand people – mediated by some 2,600 buses and 80,000 cars per day – we can see how the Old Town is under a lot of pressure to ease the flow of traffic in and out of its lauded and much celebrated cobblestone streets and enduring antiquity.

Could've been worse, they could've turned it into a Nightclub. A "holy" Nightclub.

With Quito promising to be careful in its execution and construction of the Metro underneath the Historical Old Town (apparently, stating that instead of using a tunnel boring machine they’ll dig manually), it seems that the city and the government has a rather headstrong outlook in getting this thing underway.

After all, doesn’t Rome have its own Metro under the Colosseum? And China, a metro underneath the Forbidden (yes, FORBIDDEN!) City?

I say: Persevere Quito, persevere! And I will see you all, dear friends and family that live on the other side of the city, in less than 36 minutes,

Come 2016.

Venturing into El Almuerzo

During my first week living in Quito and working in the V!VA Travel Guide office, I was challenged with finding the perfect lunch spot to fit my budget and keep my mental energy high and alert for the remainder of the workday. What better than an almuerzo joint?

”Almuerzos” are generally open during lunch with a pre-determined menu, offering juice, soup, a main dish, and, depending on the quality of the almuerzo joint, a dessert. All this food amounts roughly to $1.50-$3.50.

For my first venture, I shuffled down Diego del Almagro, attempting to find  nice almuerzo while staying loyal to my monthly budget. Within a couple of blocks, I found a sign posted outside a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant with ”ceviche”-a seafood concoction marinated in fresh juices and spices-as the main course.  If you asked, I wouldn’t be able to give you the name or the exact address.

High-quality ceviche (ceviche by powerplantop)

Once I plopped down in my chair, the server immediately presented me with a heaping portion of soup. I tried to identify its contents before I slipped the spoon in my mouth, but couldn’t. Instead I poked and jabbed at the meat until three Ecuadorian men sat down at my table. The tiny restaurant was reaching capacity.

”Do you know what kind of meat this is?” I asked. In Spanish of course.

The three men poked at their own soup and let out a boisterous laugh.

”No se.” One of the men replied.

Apparently for a meal this cheap, the animal origin of its ingredients is hardly a factor. Nonetheless, I forced down the ambiguous soup, and the ceviche was quite tasty. My subsequent ventures to other almuerzos near the office have all been positive. Plus, they’re great for practicing Spanish with locals.

Quito's Crafty Nuns

When you think of nuns, often the image of “penguins” slapping parochial schoolchildren’s hands with a ruler comes to mind. But other Catholic orders dedicate themselves to tasks in service to others, or to making homemade goodies and medicines.

 

This is the work of three convents in Quito’s Centro Histórico: Santa Clara, Carmen del Alto and Santa Catalina. If Quito’s dry air is taking a toll on your skin, or you’ve picked up some sort of bug while out in the jungle, head over to their shops. If you’re more interested in sweets and other delectables than in natural medicine, these crafty nuns can fulfill your desires, too.

 

Convento de Santa Clara‘s (Rocafuerte and Cuenca), founded in 1596, is one block south of Plaza San Francisco. Among this convent’s offerings are a cucumber cream to soothe your skin at these high altitudes and a makeup remover. The sisters here also produce wine and have a bakery. While at the convent, stop by the church for a guided tour of the Baroque art collection (Tuesday-Sunday 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Entry: $1).

 

Two blocks to the east is Monasterio e Iglesia del Carmen del Alto (Rocafuerte and García Moreno). This is one of Quito’s oldest convents. It was originally the house of the city’s first saint, Mariana de Jesús (1618-1665). Upon her death, her family donated the building to the Carmelitas Descalzas, who enlarged the house according to the saint’s wishes. The work was completed in 1661. The convent is a closed cloister; the sisters do not enter public and pass their lives speaking only a few hours per day. The only parts the general public may visit are the church and the shop.

 

The Barefoot Carmelites of this convent specialize in raising bees, and many of their goods are made from that. They also make crafts which are for sale at their shop. The sisters are especially renowned for their embroidery work, sweets and holy wine (said to be the “star” creation of these Carmelitas Descalzas).

 

From the Iglesia del Carmen del Alto, walk two blocks east to Plaza Santo Domingo and cut across the square to Calle Flores (the street the Trole takes). Take Flores four blocks to Convento de Santa Catalina, on the corner of Calle Espejo. It is located in Barrio San Marcos, on the site where the Incan Aclla Huasi (House of the Chosen) was.

 

This convent has probably the widest range of health and beauty aids, some made by its community and others by outside producers. Besides lotions and creams, this religious order’s members craft products your great-grandmother probably whipped up in her kitchen. There is horseradish syrup for coughs, and all manner of teas and potions for other ailments. The honey-bees’ wax cream is exceptionally good for relieving dry skin and nice for massages. While at Convento de Santa Catalina drop by its museum (Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-5p.m. Entry: $1.50).

 

These convents create products from their own huertas, or garden-farm plots. Besides being the way they fulfill their calling, this is also how the nuns can raise much needed money for their communities and projects. The shops are typically open Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Weekend Entertainment in Quito's Centro Histórico

Some travelers prefer to check out the nightlife in La Mariscal district, dancing and drinking until the cocks crow. But Quito has other ways to enjoy weekend nights, that even families may enjoy, right in the colonial heart of the city.

 

La Ronda at a quieter moment.

Once upon a time, La Ronda was the soul of Quiteña culture. Just two blocks south of Plaza Santo Domingo was where many poets lived, and here many of the old-time songs were composed. Already by the 1990s, this two-block-long neighborhood had become one of the most dangerous in the Centro Histórico, plagued with robberies, prostitution and drug dealing. For several decades, the residents tried to get the city to help them recuperate their barrio. Finally, in middle of the 21st century’s first decade, the city agreed—but wanted the people to move out. The families fought to remain, saying that they would work together.

 

In 2007, the renewed La Ronda opened as a tourist attraction. Generations-old family shops, making artisan candles, sweets and espumillas (fruit-flavored whipped cream), found new clientele. Some families opened restaurants featuring traditional Quiteño cuisine. Children played the barrio’s music. Visitors stopped to sing and dance along in the narrow, cobblestone lane.

 

Within months, La Ronda became THE place to go Friday and Saturday nights. The blocks around the district become one massive parking lot. The streets are crowded with couples and families strolling from café to café, drinking canelazo (a warm drink made of fruit juice and cane alcohol), dining and listening to music. Now many establishments are owned by non-barrio residents, and a variety of music is now heard (not just the traditional Quiteña sounds).

 

Boogying to quiteña music.

 

On Saturday nights, Quito offers Noches Patrimoniales. These tours, conducted by guides in period costumes, last 45 minutes and depart at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. from the tourism office (Calle Venezuela and Calle Espejo. Tel: 257-2445/295-4469, URL: www.quito.com.ec). Participants learn about the history and legends of the Centro Histórico, and visit different museums. The cost is $6 per person. Contact the tourism office for more details.

 

Also on Saturday nights, Biciacción (Tel: 245-6156) invites people to join it on bicycle excursions through Quito’s Historic Center.

 

 

After checking out the Centro Histórico’s nightlife on Friday and Saturday nights, take it easy Sunday morning when the entire downtown becomes a pedestrian mall until 2 p.m.

 

Artists, craftspeople and musicians perform along Calle García Moreno and Calle Sucre. The main plazas—Grande, San Francisco and Santo Domingo—vibrate with free theater, dance, music and puppet shows. Sometimes events also happen at Plaza la Merced (Calles Cuenca and Chile) and Plaza del Teatro (Calles Sucre and Manabí). Many of the churches and museums are open. Vendors come out, selling baskets of fresh fruits, cups of espumilla and toys.

 

There are plenty of happenings for children, too, with face painting, games and crafts.

 

Ciclopolis (Tel: 290-1920, URL: www.ciclopolis.ec) sponsors the Ciclopaseo from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. This 27-kilometer (16.2-mile) bicycling circuit runs from Parque de los Recuerdos in the North, down Avenida Amazonas, into the Centro Histórico and South as far as Quitumbre. Mechanics are posted at four spots along the way.

 

If you happen to not have a bike, you can lease one for the day, for $5.60. Rentals can be arranged at several points along the circuit (Jorge Washington, Tribunal del Sur or La Kennedy) or by phoning Ciclopolis. Some form of identification must be left as a “deposit.”

 

The carefree spirit in downtown Quito’s streets, however, continues well past the stages are broke down and the artists have packed their instruments. Until sundown, children continue to chase the pigeons in the squares, neighbors sit to chat and vendors to sell fruits.

Quito’s San Roque Market

Many of Quito’s neighborhoods have their markets, but the largest of them all is San Roque. Located in an indigenous barrio, it has all the actions of a village mercado, in the colonial heart of the city.

 

In the market alley.

San Roque’s market is daily, but Saturday is the busiest day. Walking across the bridge over Avenida Mariscal Antonio de Sucre, you’re suddenly thrust into the bustle. In the alley alongside the main building, furniture makers are hawking their wares. On spread-out cloths, a strange miscellanea of items—from parts for blenders to cell phones—glisten in the weak morning sun. Another aisle has heaps of used clothing. Waiters run bowls of hot soup to vendors making another sale. Women stoop in front of pails full of snail ceviche.

 

Emerging onto Calle Loja, the scene is ablaze with fresh fruit and vegetable stands. On the west end, past the Esmeraldan women with yucca, onions and plantains, is the fish market.

Meditating his fate.

Bundles of still-alive crabs clack their claws. Bags of shrimp shipped overnight from the coast are weighed. In cramped cages, chickens wonder their culinary fates.

 

Green peppers, carrots & limes.

The produce sections stretch for blocks, from Cantuña up to Cumandá, from Loja over to Calderón. Women, dressed in wrapped-around lengths of velvet

tied off with woven belts, wander the crowded streets. Plastic bags stuffed with homegrown vegies hang from their hands. In Quichua-shrill voices, they call out their offerings: Green peppers, 25 cents. Thirty limes, 50 cents. One holds a plastic bowl mounded with carrots. Another has a row of corn lined on her arm (seven for a dollar). A child has a bowl of peas.

 

The stands are heaped with pineapples (in this off-season, three for a dollar), melons (five for a dollar). As the harvests come, so do the bargains. Anything cultivated in Ecuador’s jungles, coasts and mountains are for sale here.

Fruits from the Sierra & Selva.

 

 

San Roque’s market is six blocks from Plaza San Francisco. From the plaza, walk

San Roque market's crowded streets.

South on Calle Cuenca to Calle Rocafuerte. Turn right, walking uphill to Quiroga (where there is a stone wall on the southwest corner). Turn left. Just past the Japón public school, turn right and walk over the pedestrian bridge. (You’ll see the San Roque tunnel down below, to your right.) Soon you will be in the midst of the mercado. Once entering, turn left towards Calle Loja. It is extremely crowded, so beware pickpockets and leave valuables at home.

Quito’s Barrio San Marcos

In the heart of Old Town Quito, just two blocks North of Plaza Santo Domingo, is an unexpected ambience in this downtown more known for colonial churches and plazas: Barrio San Marcos.

 

Calle Junín

This neighborhood, centered around Calle Junín, today is home to middle-class families, artisan workshops and a parish church. It also has several interesting museums, a dance center and restaurants.

 

San Marcos is one of Quito’s oldest sectors. During the Inca reign, the Aclla Huasi (House of the Chosen) was where Convento de Santa Catalina is now (Flores and Espejo). The convent has a natural medicine shop (Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-1 p.m.) and a museum (Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-5p.m. Entry: $1.50).

 

The barrio was founded in the 1580s. Spaniards, indigenous and mestizos lived here side by side, an anomaly for the era. It was home to Francisco Javier Ascásubi and Miguel Antonio Rodríguez, two important players in the 1809 uprising against Spanish rule. This was where, too, Manuela Sáenz lived. In the late 19th century, painters Brígida and Gertrudis Salas, and the musicians Aparicio Córdova and Carlos “Pollo” Ortiz created here.

 

San Marcos' plaza and church.

Calle Junín is lined with homes showing the centuries of architectural styles. A few late-16th century buildings remain, and there are some designed by Antonio Russo, an Italian who erected many of the early 20th century buildings in the Centro Histórico. Flowers spill over second floor balconies. Neighborhood stores, barbershops, tailors and other family-owned businesses speckle the landscape all the way down to the tree-shaded plaza and the parish church. Calle Junín continues two blocks more, to a cul-de-sac.

 

Eight artisan and artist workshops also adorn Calle Junín, including the gallery-studio of Sonia Rosales (Junín E2-143 and Almeida. Tel: 239-6320, E-mail: energizarte@hotmail.com), who studied for several decades in China. She creates her women-centric art with natural pigments on handmade paper.

 

Other artisan workshops are those of José Barrera who crafts wood (Junín E3-03 and Gutiérrez. Tel: 228-0753) and Arte Colonial Quiteño of Señor Marcelo Ruiz (Junín E2-61 and Almeida. Tel: 295-2529).

 

Twice a year, San Marcos hosts a street fair with artisan stands, traditional foods and live music, and showcasing the neighborhood’s creativity. Its patron saint celebration is on April 25.

 

Museo de Aquarela

In recent years, Barrio San Marcos has quietly become a cultural mecca in downtown Quito. Three museums lure visitors to this neighborhood. Museo Manuela Sáenz (Junín OE113 and Montúfar) highlights the life of this Quiteña who played a major role in the Wars of Independence. Further down Calle Junín is the Museo de Arquitectura (Tuesday-Saturday 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Junín 610 and Ortiz Bilbao. Tel: 228-0446. Entry: $1), where you can learn about Quito’s architectural history. On the next block is Museo de Acuarela y Dibujo Muñoz Mariño (Junín OE227), dedicated to Ecuador’s most important watercolor artists.

 

La Casa de la Danza now has its center in Barrio San Marcos (Junín and Gutiérrez. Tel: 295-5445). Every Saturday night, it hosts performances in its Carpa de la Paz (Peace Tent) (7-11 p.m. Entry: $2). It also has a café (Tuesday-Thursday 3-7 p.m., Saturday 7:30-11 p.m.).

Restaurante Tradición Colonial

 

Several restaurants, run by young Sanmarqueños, are open for lunch and dinner. Tradicional Colonial has tremendous views over La Marín (Junín E3-167 and Segunda Escalinata. Tel: 258-0124, Cel: 087-522-599). Restaurante Las Cuevas de la Colonia is in the barrio’s oldest building (Junín and Montúfar. Cel: 092-422-828). Across from Plaza San Marcos is a traditional picantería. Octava de Corpus, a wine and grill bistro-art gallery, is open only in evenings (Junín E2-167. Tel: 295-2989, URL: www.octavadecorpus.com).

 

If you would like to stay in San Marcos, experiencing the neighborhood’s peace and creativity, there is Casa San Marcos, an up-scale boutique hotel (Junín 655 and Montúfar. Tel: 228-1811, E-mail: casasanmarcos@yahoo.es, URL: www.casasanmarcos.com). The inn also houses Cafetería Quindihuasi, serving Ecuadorian fusion cuisine for lunch and dinner.

A New Guide of Walking Tours in Quito

A copy of Tyler Burgess’ Quito, Ecuador Townscape Walks landed in V!VA Travel Guide‘s office. The small, paperback guide has instructions of 12 routes in the Old Town, Mariscal and New Town, with hints on what cafés, plazas, museums, churches and other sites to know in Quito. Leafing through the hand-illustrated booklet, I became intrigued. In all of my years of visiting Quito, Ms Burgess proposes places I’d never explored.

Quito, Ecuador Townscape Walks by Tyler Burgess

I decide to undertake the three walks in the Centro Histórico. The first, from Plaza Grande to La Basílica (4 kilometers / 2.5 miles), which will visit not only the Basílica, but also the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo, Museo Sucre and the Catedral de Quito.

The Old Town walks begin from Plaza Grande. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

The second route will take me from the Plaza Grande, to the Centro Cultural Metropolitano and the Compañía church, up to Iglesia de San Francisco and its museum, and finally down to La Ronda (2.75 kilometers / 1.7 miles).

Another trek, again beginning at Plaza Grande, has the goal of Iglesia de San Diego and its cemetery, and the top of El Panecillo (7.7 kilometers / 4.8 miles).

Next week I shall share one of the adventures here in this space.

Quito, Ecuador Townscape Walks is not a guide with descriptions of each site. It is only a collection of a dozen circuit maps, with suggestions of places to visit. Throughout, Tyler Burgess weaves in several handy features, like where to stop for a fresh fruit juice or where there are bathrooms. The booklet is illustrated with sketches of things you’ll see along the way. She takes her fellow walkers into the back streets of Quito, where few tourists ever venture, to see the daily life of Quiteños behind the façade.

Some of the routes are through neighborhoods that, after dark, do have some security problems; but as long as you hoof around during daylight hours and use common-sense security measures (keep valuables back at the hotel, don’t flash your camera, take only the money you’ll need and go with another person), you should do okay. An additional map of the city is also handy. The walks, none of which are more than 8.5 kilometers (5.2 miles), can be quite aerobic, taking on Quito’s many hills.

And this is not a surprise, considering Burgess’ life. Born in 1950 in Wyoming, she spent her adult years in Montana and Oregon. She has always been an outdoors enthusiast. In her 40s, she played soccer, performed triathlons and undertook solo backpacking trips. She coaches marathon and fitness classes. Burgess also organizes walking tours across Ireland, England, Italy and Morocco, as well as in several US cities. A few years ago, she was a Santiago de Compostela Pilgrim, walking the 880-kilometer (550-mile) route alone.

Ms Burgess has written Townscape Walks for Seattle, Oregon, Eugene and Portland. This is is her first one in a foreign land. If you are interested in learning more about the books, visit www.walk-with-me.com.

The Votes Are In: Quito's Seven Wonders

The votes are in for Quito’s Seven Wonders.

As reported a few weeks ago in Quito’s Seven Wonders, the public was invited to choose the city’s best sites. The competition ran from April until July 31. Over 14,000 people participated in the on-line voting.

A few surprises made the list—as well as some of the most well-known churches and plazas.

And the winners are:

  1. The Chimbacalle Train Station

  2. Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús

  3. Convento de San Francisco

  4. Basílica del Voto Nacional

  5. Santuario de la Virgen de El Quinche

  6. Plaza de la Independencia (Plaza Grande)

  7. Virgen de El Panecillo

The wonderous sites will enter the list of World Heritage Treasures (Tesoros del Patrimonio Material del Mundo) and will be promoted internationally in tourism news, including the Discovery Channel.

Quito's Seven Wonders

If you are presently in Quito or visited the city in the past, you undoubtedly have visited dozens of the nominations for Quito’s Seven Wonders.

Following in the footsteps of Asunción (Paraguay), Barcelona, Brasilia, Madrid and Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), Quito has decided to designate seven wonders in its own historic city. Voting began four months ago and ends July 31.

Anyone can participate by voting online at: www.7maravillasdequito.com.

The nominations are:

  1. Santo Domingo
  2. San Francisco
  3. El Sagrario
  4. Santa Bárbara
  5. La Compañía de Jesús
  6. Catedral Metropolitano
  7. Convento de El Carmen Alto
  8. La Merced
  9. Convento de San Agustín
  10. La Basílica del Voto Nacional
  11. Iglesia de Guápulo
  12. Iglesia de la Virgen de El Quinche
  13. Plaza Grande
  14. Palacio Arzobispal
  15. Palacio de Carondelet
  16. Virgen del Panecillo
  17. Cima de La Libertad
  18. Antiguo Hospital Militar
  19. Teatro Bolívar
  20. Teatro Nacional Sucre
  21. Palacio de Cristal Itchimbía
  22. Centro Cultural Metropolitano
  23. Antiguo Hospital San Juan de Dios (Museo de la Ciudad)
  24. Calle la Ronda
  25. Museo del Agua Yaku
  26. Laguna de La Alameda
  27. La Capilla del Hombre
  28. Parque El Ejido
  29. Jardín Botánico de Quito
  30. Parque Metropolitano
  31. Reserva del Pululahua
  32. Ciudad Mitad del Mundo
  33. Sitio Arqueológico Rumicucho
  34. Cemeterio de San Diego
  35. Estación de Ferrocarril Chimbacalle
  36. Río Machángara El Parque Largo Machángara
  37. Volcán Pichincha

Dollar Deals in Quito

A little really does go a long way in Quito. Since arriving a few weeks ago, I’ve been amazed at the amount of things I can purchase for just one dollar. I can drink a beer at a pub, buy a DVD, or even feast on 20 bananas—if I could eat them all before they turn brown. There is so much to do in Quito that my dollars are flying fast! Here is the run-through of some things you can buy and do in Quito for under a buck.

Start your day with a cup of coffee—or four. Most places will give you your caffeine fix for 25 to 35 cents a cup. Just be prepared to receive a cup of hot water and a jar of instant coffee, as is the norm around these parts. If only espresso will do, you’ll have to pay up. Still, you’ll get you buzz for less than the smallest latte at Starbucks.

A refreshing alternative to coffee—that is still just a buck—is a large cup of juice. Many fruterias, or fruit shops, allow you to choose any mix of fruits of vegetables you fancy, and then squeeze your drink right before your eyes. No sugar or water added! Soda or bottled water is also sold at a reasonable price: 30 to 60 cents depending on the size of the bottle.

Transportation in Ecuador is cheap. A taxi will take you up to a mile for just a dollar, or you can hop on a city bus for a mere 25 cents. Just be warned: you really do have to hop on and off the buses, which seem to never come to a complete stop when picking up or dropping off passengers.

As for entertainment, a dollar can buy you a few things. Pop into one of Quito’s many knock-off DVD or CD stores and you’ll find just about any title for a dollar (sometimes a bit more). Shopping at the Mercado Artesanal is another option, where you can pick up handmade bracelets, earrings, or other small items such as coin purses or finger puppets for a dollar or less. However, there are so many beautiful homespun souvenirs for sale it would be hard to leave without buying an alpaca blanket or a panama hat. People watching at Parque la Carolina or Parque Ecológico Metropolitano are two other completely free options, but it would be hard to bypass indulging in an ice cream cone or fresh fruit cup from a vendor for just a dollar.

Your dollar dinner options are a little scant, but you do have some choices. A slice of pizza or foot-long hot dog are two familiar menu items, but the latter is served with some unfamiliar toppings: sometimes mayonnaise, sometimes tomatoes, sometimes crushed potato chips. If you want to try something a little more Ecuadorian, grab a “Choclo con Queso,” a corn on the cob served with a chunk of cheese. The snack is sold everywhere!

Drinking is cheap, too. A large bottle of beer is just a dollar at many pubs, and if you search hard enough you might be able to snag a cuba libre, rum and coke, or other mixed drink for the same price. Don’t leave without spending a buck on a “canelazo,” a traditional drink made with fruit juice and sugar cane alcohol, served hot. Also, if you like to smoke when you drink, pick up a half-pack of cigarettes (10 in a box) for just a dollar!

When you’re finally done, make a pit stop inside an internet cafe, where you can call most international numbers for a half hour for just a dollar. Just enough time to tell them how amazing (and cheap!) Quito is!